Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Update of sorts

My Athanor supplement is nearing completion when I have free time. I have an original, but not particularly well-done cover for the book, and I want to revisit the skill system to see if I can strip it down more and make that section cleaner.

Most of my time is being spent on school. By the end of the week, I should have finished a 35 page-ish paper (including bibliography and appendices -- only about 25-30 pages of real content), put together a 10-minute presentation of the paper, and made copies of my video project. Then the quarter will be done and I have until January to take some "time off" from class (a values of "time off" that includes reading some Foucault, Gramsci, Freire, Apple, Illitch and miscellaneous journal articles.) I just got my dissertation committee chair and I have made a good first pass at outlining and starting to flesh out a literature review, and have a good idea of big gaps. My next six months are going to kill me, as I need to take two classe per quarter and really wrestle with methodology and the development of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposal for human research, both for access to retention and graduation data from the institution and for interviews of students.

As a result of this pre-dissertation proposal madness, thinking about gaming has not been a high priority -- even though I will be gaming tonight and in a couple of weeks with my friends' 4e groups. But playing 4e has really gotten me thinking about some of the weirdness of contemporary gaming that makes me re-think the way I have approached the hobby for the last decade or two.

When I was a wee lad arond '81, we didn't have detailed backstories. We didn't set up "3 by" backgrounds for our PCs (which, I have to admit, I introduced to the my friend a few years ago and a D&D 3.0 game). Instead, we rolled up a quick character, and slowly accreted a background as we thought about it. Starting characters were cyphers, and only gained depth with survival. It's almost as if we were trying not to be attached to the FNG until he survived a few firefights. Background information was a sign of long-term survival.

Nowadays, D&D (and this applies to 3.x, too) takes more effort to make a character, and we tend to invest characters with things like backgrounds, and ideas of destiny and future as a result. But the important things here are a) that players don't want to lose characters as a result (though my Tiefling Swordmage, Malachi Skaith has a bit of a deathwish, and I don't count on him surviving until the end of the campaign), and that getting into the hobby involves a higher commitment on the part of players. Characters take more time to make, more systems mastery to make, and more storytelling skill to make.

This isn't a rant on the evils of contemporary D&D. Certainly, this very issue of complexity and ability to make the character I wanted moved me away from D&D to other games by the time I was in college. However, I wonder if the lack of ease of getting up and running as a new player is an issue for people new to the hobby, and not an incentive to just toss together a character on an MMORPG and get the gameplay and table chatter with a lot less effort.